William John Roxburgh (1865-1919) was a missionary to Southern Africa.

Johnny was born in Annan, about fifteen miles south east of Dumfries. His parents were Alexander Roxburgh and his wife Agnes née Steel. He was educated at Derby School. In 1885, Johnny’s sister, Janie, married Hugh Walker, lecturer in English at St David’s College. Johnny too was a member of Lampeter, where he was senior scholar and theological exhibitioner. As well as studying, he played in both the cricket and the lawn tennis teams. Next, he went up to Trinity College Oxford. He was ordained deacon in the diocese of Chester in 1890 and priest in 1891.  

Roxburgh’s next destination was the Trinity College mission in Stratford in east London. The vicar of St John’s church had erected a new church in Tenby Road. Trinity College took over the mission in 1888. It consisted of a red brick church and a big hall with a house alongside. The ground floor of the house contained an office; above this was a club room with a billiard table. Roxburgh and a fellow worker lived in an upper storey. The houses around were let as tenements, with different families occupying one or two rooms each. Noise from trains shook the mission every few minutes.  

It was said of him at this time, ‘Roxburgh was the friendliest of mortals and the most adaptable of men. In five minutes he could be at home in any society, and it took him no longer to make an intimate friend. He lived every moment of his life as if it alone mattered, and he treated anyone whom he met as if he alone were important … He could preach or lecture on any subject at the shortest notice; and his lectures were interesting, sometimes brilliant, but you could not rely on his facts, for his imagination was always capable of supplying any deficiency in his knowledge.’ 

He would rush out into the street at night to stop a fight; he was brave enough to intervene in a matrimonial dispute when both participants were drunk. In contrast, he would sit up all night with a dying patient. His life style was spartan; he liked cold baths and lived largely on cocoa, bread and marmalade. 

Roxburgh left London to serve as a missionary in St Augustine’s mission station, at Penhalonga near Umtali in Mashonaland, (now Zimbabwe). He was accompanied by a small group of laymen from the diocese of Lichfield. They set up an industrial training school, which opened in 1899. In 1904, William Gaul, the bishop of Mashonaland, described the mission with its three priests, two laymen and a hundred African men and boys. These Africans had built a large brick-built schoolroom. Several other missionaries came to Mashonaland through Roxburgh’s influence. Arthur Shearly Cripps, who had studied with Roxburgh at Trinity College, began his long missionary service in Mashonaland in 1901. Another Trinity friend, Harry Buck, arrived in Penhalonga in 1903. At Lampeter, Roxburgh’s sister, Janie Walker, ran a branch of the Mashonaland Mission Association. Two St David’s College School teachers, John Wright Davies and G.E.P. Broderick, became missionaries there.  

Roxburgh returned to Britain, invalided out, in 1904. He became curate of St Philip’s church, Birmingham (Birmingham cathedral from 1905 onwards). He started the Birmingham Street Boys’ Union in Suffolk Street, attempting to help the newsboys and street traders of the city. Mostly these lads came from very poor homes; they sold papers or worked in poorly paid home industries because their parents were out of work. He continued to support the Mashonaland mission; in 1905, he returned to Lampeter to give a lantern lecture to raise funds.  

Roxburgh married Mary Louisa Lauria, a widow, at St George’s church, Bloomsbury, in 1906. The next year he became vicar of All Saints’, Kings Heath. His last move was back to Africa in 1913; this time he went to the outskirts of Johannesburg as vicar of Yeoville. He died there, burnt out, on 6 September 1919. A stained glass window in his church in King’s Heath, is dedicated to Roxburgh and his wife.  


The Rev. W.J. Roxburgh (1919, September 8). The Times. Retrieved February 12 2021 from https://link-gale-com.ezproxy.uwtsd.ac.uk/apps/doc/CS235736360/TTDA?u=walamp&sid=TTDA&xid=0399e58c 

William John Roxburgh Priest (1919, September 12). Church Times. Retrieved February 12 2021 from https://www.ukpressonline.co.uk/ukpressonline/view/pagview/ChTm_1919_09_12_235 

West Ham: philanthropic institutions (1973). In: W.R. Powell (ed.) A History of the County of Essex. Vol. 6 (pp. 141-144). Retrieved February 12 2021 from https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol6/pp141-144 

Smith, H. Maynard (1926). Frank, Bishop of Zanzibar. Retrieved February 12 2021 from http://anglicanhistory.org/weston/frank1.html 

House of Training for Women Missionaries, Upton Park. (1904, April 29). Church Times. Retrieved February 12 2021 from https://www.ukpressonline.co.uk/ukpressonline/view/pagview/ChTm_1904_04_29_567 

Welch, P. (2008). Church and Settler in Colonial Zimbabwe: a Study in the History of the Anglican Diocese of Mashonaland/Southern Rhodesia, 1890-1925. Retrieved February 15 2021 from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/aber/reader.action?docID=468507# 

Dargue, W. (2011-16). A history of Birmingham churches from A to Y. Kings Heath All Saints. Retrieved February 15 2021 from https://ahistoryofbirminghamchurches.jimdofree.com/kings-norton-st-nicolas/all-saints-kings-heath/ 

Roxburgh, A.J. (1906). The school mission. The Bromsgrovian, N.S. 20(3),75-76. Retrieved February 15 2021 from http://www.bromsgrove-schoolarchive.co.uk/Filename.ashx?tableName=ta_publications&columnName=filename&recordId=122 

Ecclesiastical intelligence. (1907, October 14). Times. Retrieved February 15 2021 from https://link-gale-com.ezproxy.uwtsd.ac.uk/apps/doc/CS151844174/TTDA?u=walamp&sid=TTDA&xid=a94f75c8